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All-Star Revue

H over at The Comic Treadmill discusses his dissatisfaction with the Detroit Race Riot/Real American storyline in All-Star Squadron #38-40 (1984)… He makes some good points–however, now that I’ve re-read the three issues, I’m prepared to offer more of a defense than I was able to put up in the CT comments section earlier this evening…

First–H compares the series unfavourably to a similarly-themed storyline in Avengers #73-74, which featured the Sons of the Serpent. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read those–but I will certainly try to get my hands on ’em (I actually do still have a goodly number of the Thomas Avengers–including good runs from #54 to 60 and #66 to 72–and I love what Roy did on that title in the sixties)

Second, H makes much of the fact that the “villain” of the piece–“Real American”–is later exposed as an android (designed by the goddamned Monitor!) with extremely potent hypnotic abilities, thus affording the reader the luxury of concluding that the troubles in Detroit are just the result of a mass delusion… At first, I was willing to accept this claim–but now I’m not so sure. Roy brings in so much authentic data from newsreels and headlines (from Life Magazine) that the reader pretty much has to remain cognizant of the fact that these events really happened, and that, of course, there was no hypno-hustling android there to rouse the rabble in Earth-Prime Detroit!

The story derives its power from the tensions aroused by a government project (the Sojourner Truth Homes) designed to provide proper housing for African-Americans who had migrated to the Motor City from the deep south in between the wars… Up until that time, these people (who had come to Detroit in order to help fuel the exponential growth of the auto industry there) had mainly been forced to live in the ironically-named slum Paradise Valley… Each of these citizens had paid their rent in advance–all they wanted to do was move in. But, of course, the SJ Homes were situated smack in the middle of a middle-class area, and there were objections…

I think Thomas did a great job with this storyline, actually. The various androids and super-powered characters are just there to raise the stakes–they don’t instigate or resolve the drama. Roy addresses a lot of concerns that you wouldn’t expect him to–i.e. some of the opposition to the project comes from the “black bourgeoisie”, and there’s some frank talk from FDR about how “domestic issues have to take a back seat to the international situation in wartime”–as well as some of the more obvious stuff, like the way that the undeniable equation racial discrimination=Nazism forced Americans to begin making a real commitment to cleaning up their act as liberals… There are many books out there on this subject, but a good, accessible one is Eric Foner’s The Story of American Freedom–I’m not crazy about Foner–he’s too much of an economic determinist for my tastes, but it’s well worth your time…

Anyway–I think the essential dilemma of liberal society is very nicely dramatized by this exchange, which occurs on page 20 of issue #40:

Amazing Man (Will Everett): Things seem to have calmed down at last, but there are still too many of my people behind bars–and not enough of the ones who baited them.

Liberty Belle: I’d feel better if you thought all Americans were your people, Will. But under the circumstances, I don’t guess that comes easy.

No kidding Libby! But she’s right! Obviously, liberalism makes a claim upon cultural insiders to welcome all human beings into the fold–however, it also makes a (much more difficult) demand upon “outsiders”–or outsiders-on-the-cusp-of-“acceptance”–to let go of the badges of their former (and possibly ongoing) oppression… That’s a tall order–and we’re nowhere near fulfilling either part of the bargain…

Good night friends!
Dave

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2 comments

  1. Okay, I’ve given the story another close look and I admit that Roy did an outstanding job working the historical events of the day in the story. Heck, between this reading and your response, I might have learned something.

    But before I put my license to blog on probation, I’m sticking to my guns on my overall opinion – there was a good story buried in this three-parter, but the prominence given to the hypnotic bucket of bolts built by the Monitor detracted from the real drama. This story would have been better if the super part of super-heroics was downplayed in favor of the heroic part.

  2. H,

    I think we agree on that one–the “Real American” was completely unnecessary (just like everything else associated with the Monitor!), and the story could have been a lot better!

    Dave

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